The Devil is in the Details

By most accounts, 2011 was a pretty bad year for horror at the box office. Coming off a long draught and appearing not only during the historical dumping ground for bad movies that is January, but also during the very first weekend of the year, 2012 gives us The Devil Inside. Does it bode well for the coming twelve months?

On one hand, The Devil Inside provides hope that 2012 will provide at least a larger number of horror movies at the box office than 2011 did. As far as quality horror movies, though, it doesn’t provide much hope for the creative success of these movies. The Devil Inside is not offensively bad, but neither is it particularly good. It’s just average.

Whether or not you like The Devil Inside may depend on how you feel about the faux-documentary/found footage method of storytelling. If you think it’s overstayed its welcome, you probably won’t have much patience for this movie. But if, like me, you are an eternal optimist who thinks there can always be a new twist, this movie does provide a few details that are new to the sub-genre.

For example, don’t you wonder in found footage movies how the cameras always manage to be in the right place at the right time? In The Devil Inside, there are scenes of the “documentary” filmmaker placing his cameras, describing their location and explaining what they do. It adds authenticity to the story and from that aspect, it’s very effective.

On the other hand, don’t pay too much attention to the logic of what appears on screen from these cameras. The “Pupil Cam” is particularly frustrating. Explained as a scientific device with a specific purpose, it ends up simply providing a different, extreme close-up view of the action.

I want to like the story more than I did. It starts strong with a 911 call from a woman confessing that she murdered three people. It turns out that they were all clergy and that she killed them during a failed exorcism. Is Maria Rossi truly possessed or is she just insane? Twenty years later, her daughter travels to Rome to find out.

So we have a gory beginning, a decent mystery, a psychological alternative to demonic possession and plenty of political shenanigans from the Vatican. These elements exceed my expectations. However, The Devil Inside is not very effective at fulfilling its promise. To say the ending is abrupt would be an understatement. Not only does it avoid satisfactorily answering many of the questions it asks, it also denies the audience of an emotional catharsis.

Perhaps what bothers me most are the extremes the movie takes to detail the debate between actual demonic possession and the alternative scientific explanation. The scientific explanation easily wins because, at least twice, when someone asks a priest about the difference, all he says is, “You’ll know it when you see it.” Then, in an odd contradiction, the priest seems to be convinced of possession from only the size of pupil dilation.

Let’s face it (and this isn’t a spoiler), you know it’s going to be demonic possession. And the priest is right; there is no doubt after witnessing The Devil Inside’s graphic scenes of exorcism, perhaps the most intense scenes of this kind since The Exorcist. Other movies have shown particular aspects of an exorcism, but this one throws in everything but the kitchen sink. The language of the possessed is particularly vile.

The Devil Inside adds two new details to exorcism lore. Revealing them here would be a spoiler, but I will say that when they are introduced, the movie gains momentum. However, it then also careens out of control. And since their introductions are a little heavy-handed, the twists are seen coming. They’re clever, but they’re just not very surprising.

After all of this, though, my main problem is that for a horror movie, The Devil Inside is not very scary. Disturbing in parts, yes, but scary, no. I’m not sure how it fails at this. On paper, and as I write this, it seems there’s quite a bit to like. Even though it feels more “authentic” than The Last Exorcism, I like that movie better because it’s more raw and less clinical in its delivery, even with its reprehensible ending. However, The Devil Inside is far better than last January’s dumping ground movie, The Rite.

The Devil Inside is also far better than writer-director William Brent Bell’s previous attempt at horror, 2006’s Stay Alive. I find that movie incomprehensible, so this one is a step in the right direction. But is it a step in the right direction for 2012 horror in general?

I’m going to cop out and say that it’s too soon to tell. If The Devil Inside were surprisingly good or appallingly bad, I would make a prediction. But since it’s just so average, I’m inclined to say that until another movie indicates otherwise, 2012 looks like more of the same. And that is the true disappointment.

REVIEW: The Devil Inside
2.5Overall Score
Creepy Kids
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